The Lonesome Miner Trail


By: Steve Smith


Since starting our Inyo Mountains exploration work in 1989, I had over the years hiked all sections of the imposing Lonesome Miner Trail (LMT). But, I had only done it piecemeal and had only been on some of the sections once. So when BLM "Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness" volunteer Tom Budlong proposed doing it all in one long backpack, I signed on for what would be the second longest backpack I had ever done. This was Tom's second year in a row to do the entire 40-mile LMT straight through. In 1995, he led it north to south in seven days with about 21,000' of gain.

This year, the trip was planned to go from south to north with 17,000'+ of gain. Volunteers Morgan Irby and Marty Dickes signed on to rehike the trail in this directions as they had done the 1995 trip from north to south and along with Brian and Matt Webb and Ron Jones are the only others to have done the entire trail. BLM Ridgecrest Recreation Planner Dave Wash and I also signed on for what ]:knew would be a memorable experience - as it turned out, it was plus a few surprises along the way. The weather forecast did not look good for an extended backpack since there was a major storm passing through and another due to arrive. But as we DSP'ers know, you can never be sure how these storms may materialize in the desert areas.

Putting two vehicles at the Reward Trailhead at the north end of the trail, the five of us shuttled out to the south end Hunter Canyon Trailhead in Saline Valley on Saturday, November 16th. We were joined there by BLM Ridgecrest Wilderness Specialist Julee Pallette who came along to join us for the first two days of the trip. Arriving in Saline Valley, we provided an assist to a motorist with a flat tire and then helped Tom change a flat on his vehicle. We also stopped by to visit with Marilyn Moyer who was spending the week at her property in Saline Valley and where we would have a social get together at the end of the backpack. Leaving the Hunter Canyon Trailhead (1,800') in late afternoon, it was an enjoyable first day as we arrived at the historic Tent Platforms(3,900') by early evening. After enjoying the sunset from our perch, everyone soon turned in as the temperature rapidly dropped. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a sound which sounded like rain drops hitting the ground. Looking out from my sleeping bag, I could see a beautifully clear moonlit sky with no clouds and no wind. So, I pulled back down into the bag, glad that I wouldn't have to get out in the cold to set up my tent. The noise continued, however, picking up intensity and I realized that it was indeed rain which was getting heavy. Winds at a high altitude were blowing the rain in from the west; and so, despite a cloudless sky, everyone still had to set up their tents for rain protection. Next morning while fixing my breakfast mainstay of instant oatmeal, Tom (always one for details) noted that the package said it was to be prepared m a microwave and that adding boiling water would not cook the oatmeal. So, I was then left wondering as we started up the trail what might be the effect of eating "uncooked" oatmeal for nine mornings in a row (so far, nothing). Sunday was our biggest elevation gain day of the trip. From the Tent Platforms, it was up to 6,700' to cross over the Craig Ridge and then do a steep drop down to the Bighorn Springs at 5,100' where we loaded up with water. Then, back up to 7,100' where we spent the night at the historic Bighorn Mine cabin. There was an old functional wood stove there which we enjoyed during the cold evening in the midst of an interesting historic mining area. A heavy overcast hung over us Monday morning as we headed out to cross over the Hunter Ridge at 8,600'.

This part of the LMT has been the most difficult to follow but fortunately, we've just about got it completely figured out. From the Bighorn Mine, the trail contours westward for .5-mile to an area of prospects before switchbacking directly upwards on some well built trail past other mining prospects. We still missed the trail for about 300' but then had it the rest of the way which now makes the south side ascent of Hunter Ridge a pleasant backpack. We were able to do this segment in about three hours plus another hour along the way building ducks and clearing a few rocks to help make the trail more apparent. By mid-morning we were about half way up the ridge when we broke through the clouds and had a beautiful view of sunlit mountains surrounded by an ocean of cloud's below. The Hunter Ridge cross over is a beautiful campsite with impressive vistas of Hunter and Beveridge Canyons where we placed one of several small engraved brass plaques we carried to memorialize Wendell Moyer's Inyo explorations and naming of the LMT.

It was a fun and tranquil descent down the north side of the Hunter Ridge into Beveridge Canyon. Following the trail through a dense conifer forest and snow patches, the only challenge here was the 400' of rockslide partway down where the trail is obliterated. From the bottom of the rockslide, the trail resumes by traversing westward, up canyon to reach Frenchy's cabin and water at 6,100' where we camped. Tuesday, we followed the LMT for a mile down Beveridge Canyon past the various mining relies to the 5-stamp mill and aerial tram at 5,100'. From here, its good trail up the ridgeline to the Beveridge cabin on the Beveridge Ridge at 8,300'.

Getting to the Beveridge cabin in midaftenoon, we were greeted by volunteers Brian and Matt Webb and Dave Boiler. They had come in over Forgotten Pass to join with us for a celebration of the Brian's 25 years of exploring the Inyo Range. For several years, they had been carrying in and caching supplies in anticipation of their 25 year celebration. Wednesday was a layover day for us so we had plenty of time to reminisce about our many Inyo experiences, enjoy the beauty of the eastside Inyos from our vantage point and partake of the exotic variety of foods the Webb's provided. We melted snow to fill all the water containers in the cabin and noted in the register book that the cabin is getting regular use and was a primary destination for several first time Inyo packpackers. There was a light drizzle Thursday morning as we headed northward on the LMT. Passing the many Keynot Mine relies and the 25-ton Allis-Chambers bulldozer, we marveled at having such an oddity stuck at such an isolated location. It was a pleasant day as we followed the trail to the top of the mine tailings at 8,600' and then contoured on good trail over to the Keynot ridge. Where the LMT ciimbs up to almost 9,000' and contours northward from the Keynot Ridge is impressive - the panoramic views of Saline Valley 8,000' below and the distant ranges is an unforgettable sight. Reaching the south side of McElvoy Canyon, the trail switch-backs quickly down. The drizzle picked up as we reached the canyon bottom and I got soaked going down canyon for .5-mile through thick riparian vegetation and stream water to reach our campsite at the McElvoy millsite at 5,100'. Fortunately, Dave and Irby had a good fire going in the cabin's fireplace and we had a pleasant evening before heavy rains drove us into our tents.

I was sound asleep and enjoying the ambiance of being in a tent during a heavy rainfall when at 3:00a.m. I was suddenly awakened by what at first sounded like a train coming down the canyon. Within a couple of seconds, I realized it was a major nearby rockfall and I started to get out of the bag to run but then realized in the dark I wouldn't have any idea which way to go. Laying in the bag for the 20 second duration of the rockfall and feeling the ground shudder several times as big boulders hit the canyon bottom was unnerving. Fortunately, our group was fine and next morning we found where the boulders had landed about 150' from our campsite. From rainwater that had collected in several containers, we saw that 1.5 inches of rain had fallen during the night which had probably loosened the ground enough to cause the rockfall.

Friday morning was bright and clear as we headed northward past a number of old mining sites and mining relies. It's a good trail as you climb up around the eastern rampart of Mt. Inyo to the top of the McElvoy Ridge at 8,200'. The McElvoy Ridge at this point is notable for its broad, linear forested plateau. The LMT goes for a mile west across this plateau before turning northward to contour towards Pat Keyes Canyon. After a delightful contour through the light snow cover and colorful late afternoon lighting, we dropped into Pat Keyes Canyon and reached our campsite at the Pat Keyes millsite. The Pat Keyes Canyon cross over isn't as strenuous as the other canyons since the trail crosses the canyon bottom fairly high up at 7,800'. With the cloud cover gone, it was a considerably colder night for us. Saturday, we had a great climb up to the Pat Keyes Ridge in bright sunlight. After checking out the relies associated with the Pat Keyes mine, we headed westward up the Pat Keyes Ridge to reach Pat Keyes Pass at 9,600'. We got into some deeper snow for the last .25-mile but it was a scenic delight climbing up to the pass in snow and the late afternoon shadows.

Our last night was spent camping at Pat Keyes Pass where we had a perfect windless night where we could look down on the lights in Owens Valley. Sunday was a relaxing day as we leisurely descended 4,700' to the Reward Trailhead at 4,900'. Volunteer Gerry Goss was there to meet us - he had attempted twice during the week to backpack in to meet us but had been turned back by bad weather. We then headed back to Saline Valley to retrieve our vehicles at Hunter and meet for an evening of socializing. In Saline, I got a flat tire but told the others to go ahead to get things set up while I changed the tire. Imagine my surprise to find my spare tire was also flat. After an hour or so, Tom and Marty drove back to find me stranded. Fortunately Marty had the same pickup as mine and was carrying two spare tires so we were in good shape - wrong. After helping me put the spare tire on the front, they took off but when I tried to go, the truck wouldn't budge. The rim on the borrowed spare was deeper and so the tire was pushed against part of the front axle. Tom and Marty drove back to find me still stranded and while we were pondering this dilemma, DVNP Ranger Dave Brenner came along. He had seen this before and told us to switch the spare to the back where there was nothing on the rear axle to hit. So, later than expected, we all, including Dave Brenner, had an enjoyable evening socializing at the Moyer Saline residence.

The Lonesome Miner Trail is a terrific outing experience and is just one of the 16 historic trails we have found so far in the southern part of the range. During the development of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness Management Plan, decisions will be made regarding which, if any of these trails should be signed or maintained and how much information should be developed to increase public awareness about the trails. Discussions regarding these issues continue and in the meantime I enjoy at least letting the climbing community know about our exploratory activities. I have prepared brief information sheets for both the LMT and accessing Beveridge Canyon which I can provide upon request.

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